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Ombudsman threatens council with legal action over lack of co-operation

Folkestone and Hythe Council was threatened with a court summons by the Local Government Ombudsman over its handling of a complaint about its treatment of a homeless family.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Michael King said the council had at times refused to respond to his enquiries and had questioned his authority to investigate the matter.

He was asked to investigate after a family with two small children was left waiting for support when made homeless, having been asked to leave the single room in which they were living.

Mr King criticised both the council’s response to the family and to his investigators.

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He said: “At times during my investigation, the council has refused to respond to enquiries - and has even questioned our authority to investigate - leading us to threaten the council with a court summons to attend our offices before it provided evidence.

“The council now needs to reflect on how it has dealt with both the complaint and its response to my enquiries and accept the simple and practical measures I have recommended to improve its service for homeless people in its area.”

Mr King said found the council delayed helping the family for three weeks, failed to consider information provided and did not help them until they were actually homeless.

He noted: “The statutory guidance is clear – people do not need to make a formal request for help to trigger the council’s duties towards them. In this case, had the council been more alert to the family’s call for help, they may have found accommodation sooner.”

A Folkestone & Hythe District Council spokesperson said: “The council has investigated the matter, and does not accept certain recommendations of the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) Service's report into Mr X's case.

“The criticism of the Council in the LGO Report relates to a 20-day period while Mr X's Housing Options Assessment was being processed. The Council had confirmed with Mr X's landlord that Mr X was able to remain at the accommodation which he had occupied for seven years, and with his family for two years. The relevant period (as determined by the LGO) ended on the date of a Housing Options Interview during which Mr X refused to cooperate with the Council's officers in interview, to provide financial and personal information to support his application, was abusive and left the Council offices without concluding the interview.

“The Council investigated Mr X's allegations concerning the state of the accommodation offered to him (after the end of the relevant period) and confirmed that the claims were unfounded. These allegations had not been mentioned by Mr X at the time but were first raised in his subsequent complaint to the LGO.

“In the circumstances, the Council does not accept that Mr X is entitled to an apology or any compensation.

“In light of the other recommendations of the LGO Report, the Council has carried out a review of the front of house services pertaining to homelessness and the Council Housing Waiting List. The review's conclusions seek to ensure good quality coherent communication is in place so that if a client reports being threatened with homelessness (particularly if within 56 days), the client is referred to the Housing Options Service.

“In addition the Council is drafting a further factsheet for our clients, which will be available both online and front of house, advising clients of the possible implications of not fully completing and working with us in a Housing Options assessment so that either a Homeless Prevention or Relief Plan can be put in place and implemented going forward, and of the need for reasonable conduct in interviews.”

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